How to watch
Start time: 7:30 PM EST / 4:30 PM PST
In Canada: Sportsnet
In the Canadiens region: RDS (French)
In the US: NBCSN
Streaming: NHL.tv/NHL Live
Any old team hoping to make the playoffs can beat clubs sitting outside the post-season picture. The Montreal Canadiens desire more of a challenge in their quest to make it, preferring to drop those games versus lower-tier opponents to really put the pressure on when facing a contender.
Monday night on home ice, the Canadiens raced out to a quick 2-0 lead, but had a mere 12 shots on goals through 40 minutes of play versus the Arizona Coyotes; a team that had struggled to find goals and was sitting outside of a playoff spot coming in. The Habs turned things up in the third, but eventually fell on a late go-ahead goal. Had they kept their foot on the gas in the opening frame, that probably wouldn’t have become a possibility for the visiting team.
Arizona was the lowest-ranked team the Canadiens were set to face this week, with three seeded teams left on the agenda. It was a missed opportunity to bank a few points, but perhaps that means the Habs finally have a few opponents they can get fully engaged against, and there’s no better team to get them back to the top of their game than tonight’s opponent: the rival Boston Bruins.
Tale of the Tape
|54.1% (1st)||Corsi-for pct.||50.9% (11th)|
|3.02 (17th)||Goals per game||3.30 (6th)|
|3.02 (13th)||Goals against per game||2.39 (1st)|
|18.9% (20th)||PP%||26.3% (2nd)|
|79.5% (18th)||PK%||83.7% (4th)|
The two teams aren’t on the same plane this season, and haven’t been for a few years now, but the games are usually close when they meet. Montreal came out on the winning end in the first meeting of the season when the difference was an offside review that wiped a Bruins goal off the board. Similar to the game played on Monday, the most recent game in Boston saw the Canadiens try to hold on to an early lead, but lose it by the end of regulation, with three third-period goals against. The second game, played in the middle of an eight-game losing streak in November, was the most lopsided score between the two teams since 2011, a crushing 8-1 defeat at the Bell Centre in which Carey Price and Keith Kinkaid combined for just 24 saves.
If Montreal is going to replicate last year’s result of a split in the four-game season series, they need to pull out a win in enemy territory. It’s definitely not going to be easy considering that the Bruins have only lost two games in regulation at home this season.
The Bruins are guilty of the same lacklustre play versus lower-ranked teams. On Monday they rolled into Detroit on a six-game winning streak, and had that run stopped by the Red Wings. It was their second loss to Detroit this season, so Montreal isn’t alone in being befuddled by the draft lottery favourite.
Montreal may need that rare dip in play to continue to earn the win, because they go into the game this evening without top defenceman Shea Weber, and potentially top centreman Phillip Danault as well. Danault was hit in the mouth by a deflected puck on Monday and left the game. He will be on the short two-game trip (with a stop in Pittsburgh on Friday), but he may not be able to step in versus the Bruins.
Jeff Petry has done a decent job of taking the number-one role, with Brett Kulak at his side, over the past two seasons during various absences for the captain. The focus on adding players with aptitude for the centre position allows Montreal to shuffle some things around and still have four competent lines as well. But any loss of a top-of-the-lineup player puts additional stress on the formation, and that’s felt most against teams constructed as well as Boston.
As it stands, two of the forwards Montreal will have on the ice will be rookies: Nick Suzuki and Jake Evans. Both are proving to be great players in all three zones — they even got one shift as the penalty kill’s forward duo on Monday — and may have to play elevated roles in the game.
With the Canadiens’ loss on Monday combined with victories for Toronto and Florida last night, the gap to the nearest playoff spot (the third seed in the Atlantic) is now seven points. Facing similarly long odds on Monday wasn’t enough to encourage a 60-minute effort, but if the Habs are as determined to make the post-season as Brendan Gallagher seemed to be after the last game, they’ll need to find a way to beat a better team on the road.